Trying to Ward Off the Threats
Understanding the honey bee’s immune system is crucial to battling the declining honey bee population, says University of California insect virus researcher Michelle Flenniken.
Speaking to 100 fellow researchers at the Honey Bee Genomics and Biology Conference, held recently in the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New York, Flenniken said that if a bee can develop better antiviral immune responses, it’s better able to fight its foes.
"Our work is focused on understanding the natural mechanisms of antiviral immunity in honey bees--or how a honey bees fights off viral infections,” she told the researchers. “We are examining these pathways at the molecular level using gene expression microarrays.”
Flenniken, the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Postdoctoral Scholar at UC Davis and a virologist in the Raul Andino lab, Department of Microbiology and Immunology at UC San Francisco, studies honey bee viruses and the role of RNA interference (RNAi) in the antiviral immune responses. RNA, or ribonucleic acid, carries genetic information of viruses. RNAi is a mechanism that inhibits gene expression.
RNAi can be used as an antiviral strategy in honey bees, Flenniken believes. Her research involves limiting virus production in the bees by priming their RNAi machinery with viral specific double-stranded RNA.
For the past several years, she has been analyzing viruses present in the hives of area beekeepers.
The findings she reported at the conference are mentioned in the May 10th edition of the international journal, Nature. Flenniken “presented evidence that in honey bees (double-stranded RNA) can trigger a general immune response that might ward off a variety of threats,” wrote Nature author Gwyneth Dickey Zakaib.
We look forward to seeing more of Flenniken's work.
Michelle Flenniken at an apiary. (Photo by Kim Fondrk)